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William Forsythe, the Frankfurt-based American ballet choreographer, took a brief intermission after the City of Frankfurt discontinued funding of his renowned ballet company. But now he's back in a new guise. The Forsythe Company is slimmer than its predecessor and financed by the states of Hesse and Saxony. The company will give its debut performance today in Frankfurt's Bockenheimer Depot.


"I can dance again"

Sylvia Staude interviews Frankfurt-based choreographer William Forsythe

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Sylvia Staude: What has changed this year between the Frankfurt Ballet and The Forsythe Company?

William Forsythe: Everything is smaller, there are fewer people, it's more intimate. The organisation is easier, and we're not dependent on the Opera or the Theatre or any other body. Our scheduling is much freer, and that's the nuts and bolts of the business. Now we can plan properly and the next three years are already planned. We don't have to adapt to another system. And on a psychological level: to know that you no longer belong to the city – it's wonderful. Of course we have much less money, but then we use it differently.

You are still able to use the rooms in the Opera. Is that part of the arrangement with the city of Frankfurt?

Yes, it's ideal. (Points to a bench). This used to be in the girl's wardrobe and I saved it (laughs). And it's all the same people here. They're all nice. We've got nothing against the theatre; it was only the city that behaved oddly.

Now that Zurich has offered to co-operate with the Forsythe Company, will you be working regularly in three locations?

Zurich was a personal invitation from Matthias Hartmann. We might work on some things there – if circumstances permit.

The buildings in Zurich, Dresden, Frankfurt where you will be working in the future are very similar: halls, instead of traditional theatres.

Yes, all three are identical. "Decreation" was made to fit Hellerau's measurements exactly. And Hellerau is like the Bockenheimer Depot and the Depot is like the Zurich Theatre. 35 by 16 metres. It is an amazing coincidence that Zurich invited us and that they have exactly the right space.

What about the older pieces that require traditional theatre stages?

Some will be shown on tour. But the emphasis is on creating new pieces. For example, I want to try out a version of "As a garden" in the Bockenheim Depot (Frankfurt). Because I don't believe that this piece is dependent on a specific stage.

You have founded a Forsythe Foundation in New York.

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WF: That's developing too. People ask me all the time if we could offer workshops or lessons. The foundation organises that and runs projects. I'm trying to develop a dance notation on DVD with the table piece "One Flat Thing" to show how a piece develops from the inside, how it functions, how it's put together. To demystify the process and elucidate the principles of choreography. It's intended as a teaching tool.

For dancers and dance researchers?

It's strange but the CD-Rom which we developed at the Ballet is being used used in several universities, in the Architecture departments. But also in schools. I have also established a sort of info depot, it can't really be called an archive yet, but it's a place where ideas are stored. But the foundation also helps us to show things, to finance and coordinate them. It acts as a contact partner for anybody who's interested in my work. There is a board of directors which includes sponsors. This kind of support is easier in the US, people aren't used to this sort of thing here.

Will you also be playing a more active role in teaching dancers?

We are involved in a project called "Dance across Europe" which started in Brussels. Four or five choreographers and a group of students have formed a small dance company. We give the students repertoire pieces and they travel from choreographer to choreographer. Each choreographer thinks up a small study programme, which they teach to the students to complement their training. It's supposed to be interdisciplinary, not just dance, dance, dance. Of course we give them lots of movement ideas, but other things are important too. I'm trying to organise a course here. I'm also thinking about doing projects with the Städelschule or the Offenbacher Hochschule für Gestaltung. I think it'd be great. The cooperation with Heiner Blum was so successful. He was so inspiring for the students. But you have to see what's possible. They have a lot of work to do as well.

At the end of last year, the Bavarian State Ballet rehearsed your piece "Limb's Theorem". Did you see the performance? And what did you think of it?

You must remember that this is a classical dance company. And it's just not possible to master "Limb's" in six weeks. But their performance was remarkable, given the time they had. Some of these old school ballerinas still find it all very strange, but some not. And the company was so sweet to me, and they all worked very hard. The piece is incredibly difficult. I'd forgotten how difficult it is. It's almost all improvisation.

Will Thom Willems continue to compose music for your pieces?

Yes, he sits here next to me. We won't produce as much as we did before. Which is why we're also doing smaller things, installations with one or two dancers, without music. That's easier from the standpoint of organisation and cost.

To return to the beginning of our talk: Is it not a lot of pressure, having to produce for so many locations?

No, it's an enormous psychological relief – it's so completely different. Not having to work for the city any more is a huge relief. The city was unreliable, not especially friendly, the atmosphere was bad. That's all over now - the tension, the polemics.

But don't you now have money worries instead?

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I'd rather have a small budget than a lot of stress and uncertainty. Now I can plan. And know that when I earn money, it stays with us. We can invest it in our own work. In this sense, I'm very very very happy. I'm no longer tied down, I'm just providing a service. It's stressful enough being a choreographer, it's a tough profession. Without the other things on top... The scheduling is still a huge amount of work – we perform in New York, Tokyo – that all has to be organised. It's smaller, it's better, it's good.

And Frankfurt is still your home?

Yes. And we're going to continue performing for our audiences here, that's our intention.

What do you expect from the people of Dresden?

I'm curious. We did a mixed evening in November with the Semper Oper, with old pieces. "Steptext", "Vertiginous Thrill", "In the middle" .... It was wonderfully danced by very disciplined dancers. I was a bit nervous, but the audience was fantastic, I had underestimated them. We'll be taking "Loss of small detail" there next year – you can't jump in cold with "We live here" or "Decreation" – people will just shake their heads. Then we do the installation "Scattered Crowd" in the Hygiene Museum, which shows another dimension of our work. And that's how it will continue, piece by piece.

In an interview with the FR years ago, you prophesied the artistic rise of HipHop. What do you think will be the next dance trend?

We are working at the moment with a Japanese master who is showing us aspects of Budo and martial arts. That means we're dealing with a physical condition that avoids all conflict. It has to do with degrees of tension, it's incredibly subtle. He showed us a lot. It was life-changing. We learned a great deal and laughed the entire time because he had such a free consciousness. It's actually a release technique; you take the power up from below, through the spine, then you let this power go... almost a kind of Buddhist thinking. You surprise yourself. And then you're in a state where everything is possible. Since we started doing this, I find I can dance again, really dance.

The new production of the Forsythe Company debuts on 21 April, 7:30 pm at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt/Main


This article was originally published in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 16 April 2005.

Translation: lp, nb. - let's talk european